Tabea Zimmermann is a musician of captivating versatility. She performs worldwide as a soloist and chamber music partner, teaches, promotes and brings people together, sits on the board of several foundations and is constantly initiating new works. Of course, her instrument, the viola, is the centrepiece of all these activities. But the more diverse Zimmermann’s tasks have become in recent years, the more she can contribute with her entire personality: with her rich concert experience, her interest in promoting young talent and her social responsibility. “For me, a long-standing wish is now being fulfilled: that I can help shape content,” she summarises.
Zimmermann owes her fame to the viola. At the age of eleven, the South Baden native first appeared on the stage of the Berlin Philharmonie, and competition successes in Geneva, Paris and Budapest (1982-84) helped her make her breakthrough. However, she then made her own mark when she accepted an appointment at the Saar University of Music, where she became Germany’s youngest professor at the age of 21. She has remained faithful to teaching to this day: After stints in Frankfurt and Berlin, she returned to the Frankfurt University of Music and Performing Arts in the summer semester of 2023. She also passes on her enthusiasm for music at Kronberg Academy and in selected masterclasses. She stays in contact with many of her students after they graduate and often performs with them.
It is no coincidence that contemporary music is one of Zimmermann’s artistic specialities. Her interest in contemporary works was awakened early on, partly because the traditional solo repertoire for viola is not all that plentiful. In 1994, she premièred the solo sonata by György Ligeti dedicated to her. Composers such as Heinz Holliger, Wolfgang Rihm and Georges Lentz have written pieces for her. More recently, she has presented solo concertos by Enno Poppe and Michael Jarrell in highly acclaimed CD recordings. Zimmermann sees herself as a door opener into this untapped world, as a “midwife”, as she says, which is not to be confused with specialisation. She vehemently advocates stylistic diversity; after all, engaging with new music also has an impact on the reading of the classical repertoire: “You then shape these works much more consciously.”
Quality before quantity – in accordance with this maxim, Tabea Zimmermann has limited the number of her performances to around 50 per year for some time now. In addition to her solo performances, she attaches great importance to chamber music: in collaboration with artists such as Jörg Widmann, Javier Perianes, the Belcea Quartet or long-standing friends from the Arcanto Quartet, which existed until 2016. In addition to the audibility, it is the ability to make music at eye level that appeals to Zimmermann about the small ensemble – flat hierarchies as a model for social interaction. She also transfers this model to orchestral projects, for example when she conducts symphonic works from her position at the centre of the musical movement under the motto “play and lead”. Communication and attention are the key to success here. She has worked with Ensemble Resonanz in this way on several occasions, most recently with the BR Symphony Orchestra and the German National Youth Orchestra.
Tabea Zimmermann is one of the most sought-after partners of many orchestras and festivals. She has been a resident artist with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, the Berlin Philharmonic and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, to name but a few. She was appointed Artistic Partner of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra in 2022 and will perform several concerts for the Schwetzingen SWR Festival in 2024. Her expertise is also in demand in other areas: she headed the Beethoven-Haus Bonn Association for seven years and is also President of the Swiss Hindemith Foundation. Zimmermann’s versatility is also evident in this position: Hindemith has always been one of her sources of musical inspiration, and the recording of his complete works for viola in 2013 was a long-cherished wish. As President of the Foundation, she now has even more opportunities to raise awareness of the composer among musicians, organisers and audiences. In October 2023, she was awarded honorary membership, the highest honour bestowed by the German Music Council, in recognition of her passionate and tireless commitment to musical life.
Tabea Zimmermann will be encountered more often at such intersections between music and society in the future. Since July 2023, she has been a member of the Board of Trustees of the Ernst von Siemens Music Foundation, which is dedicated to promoting contemporary music; she herself was a prizewinner of the foundation in 2020. Zimmermann is convinced that the position of musicians in society needs to be strengthened, especially after the coronavirus experience. Conversely, however, the following also applies: “We all need to think about what we want to and can achieve with music.” Personally, she decided some time ago to set up her own foundation, named after her late first husband David Shallon. The David Shallon Foundation supports special, cross-border projects, such as the current “Melodies of Life” by clarinettist Nur Ben Shalom, who performs Jewish music from the time of the Holocaust.
Being able to create – that is what Tabea Zimmermann is all about, not only when making music in the narrower sense, but also beyond that. In addition to many musical honours, she has also received social awards for her extensive work, including the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany.